Arts & Culture
5:26 pm
Wed December 4, 2013

Detroit music legend Derrick May says bankruptcy is just a new angle to an old story

There was another plot turn in the long story of Detroit's struggles yesterday.

A federal bankruptcy judge looked at all the evidence and declared, yep, the city of Detroit is indeed insolvent.

It's new, for sure, but for many who have lived and worked in Detroit, it's just more of the same.

Derrick May is one the founding fathers of techno music. Detroit was the birthplace of the genre, and May has achieved a lot of success traveling around the world playing shows. (Listen to his breakout hit here.)

Yet, even with all this success, May continues to live in Detroit.

The Guardian's Tess Reidy caught up with May at a show in Turin, Italy and asked why Detroit gets so much media attention around the world.

May said people like to "marvel as it falls down."

Detroit has been bankrupt or broke or financially in strife since I was a kid. I can't tell you anything different because it's the truth. I don't remember the city never having financial problems or not being caught up in political corruption – it's always been that way. The sad part is that it doesn't reflect the people; the local community, these are hard-working, honest people.

May talked about how the city's automotive industry gave people the resources they needed to thrive, and that helped fuel the city's creative class:

Berry Gordy was a used car salesman, the guy wasn't poor, Diana Ross went to one of the best schools in the city. They were not uneducated people, they were not your typical hip-hop star, straight off the street from prison, these people had money.

Those days are gone.

The city is insolvent and will work within bankruptcy court to find a way forward.

May told the Guardian that the city has "hit the bottom of the bottom,"

...now we're recreating ourselves, a whole new creative class, a whole new energy that will be instilled upon kids my young daughter's age. We will be talking about Detroit till the day we die. It will always be something magical.

One way forward, celebrate Detroit's music leaders

Some believe a big part of Detroit's recovery should be rooted in celebrating its musicians. The city generates a lot of talent, and that talent doesn't always stick around.

In his piece for Model D, "Music is missing link in Detroit recovery," Keith Owens writes that the city isn't good at showcasing the talent:

If you want to check out the music in Detroit you need to know where to go and who to ask. But no matter who you ask, the fact remains that finding live music performed by local musicians in Detroit is a much harder task than it used to be, which means it is much harder for Detroit musicians to nail down gigs that pay more than enough to buy a hamburger on the way home.  

Owens writes that if the city could hold on to "just a fraction" of its talented performers, producers, composers, and teachers, it would go a long way in helping to define a direction for a city that is looking for one.

(H/T Model D)